September 14th, 2015

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The effects of over-broad laws

As most of my friends know, I'm a pain in the ass when it comes to the subject of Rules. It isn't that I dislike Rules in general -- by and large, I'm a Lawful Good sort -- I just dislike *bad* Rules, which is most of them.

A really great example of why comes to us last week in the pages of Popehat. Read the article -- it's short -- but ignore the predictably asinine comment thread. (Summary: a "men's rights" group sued a women-in-tech company out of existence by abusing a civil rights law.) The core point here is an important one: if you write an over-broad law, people *will* abuse it, probably in ways you find offensive. If this rule provides some kind of reward for abusing it, and no punishment for doing so, you basically guarantee that it will be abused.

Writing good Law is *hard*. Folks always seem to miss this point. You need to be crystal-clear about what you are trying to accomplish, why you are trying to accomplish it, and why you think *this* law will assist that end. You need to write the law as narrowly as you possibly can while achieving those goals, or you are begging for abuse. This applies to any organization, from the SCA to the US: don't write laws without thinking through the consequences very, very freaking carefully, focusing not on what you *want* to have happen, but what will *actually* happen when someone decides to bend your words.

And never, ever invoke the phrase "spirit of the law" -- within a year, nobody will remember what you meant, they'll just go by what you said, interpreting it to suit their ends.

As this example shows, Bad Law can have dire, counterproductive consequences. So try not to be That Legislator.

(NB for the few who might think it: the above has nothing to do with tonight's Carolingian Council meeting -- I actually think we're doing a decent job on the process there. One of my great pet peeves is that Kingdom and Society law is often less well-considered than Baronial, mostly because of Bad Process.)
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TRoOB: The Sculptor

[There's a lot of good stuff coming out, so it's time to get back into the habit of The Review of Obscure Books.]

Downstairs in our basement, there is The Shelf.

The Shelf was kind of an accident. When I was moving in with Kate, I stumbled across some graphic novels that I had liked too much to put in boxes, so they'd been living on random bookcases at my old house. So I stuck them together down there. And as I come across more really great GNs in going through the Stuff, I've been putting them on The Shelf.

Gradually, it's becoming my distillation of the Creme de la Creme of comics history. I have -- no shit -- somewhere north of 300 linear feet of comic books; The Shelf is the 29 inches of the absolute best. It's still a work in progress, but already represents my very eclectic picks for the masterpieces. From V For Vendetta and Watchman to Girl Genius, from Moonshadow to The Singles Club to Hepcats to Murder Mysteries, it's gradually evolving into a pretty good education in the best comics ever.

As soon as I'm done writing this review, The Sculptor is going onto The Shelf.

The Sculptor is by Scott McCloud, best known for Understanding Comics, the best explanation ever written about comics as a medium. But those of us who've been around a while remember Zot!, the comic that made his name as one of the shining lights during the blossoming of what I think of as the modern age of comics. IMO, The Sculptor is his masterpiece.

What's it about? Our protagonist is David Smith, a down-on-his-luck sculptor who is wallowing in his sorrows one day when Death shows up and makes him an offer: he can have remarkable gifts, in exchange for which he will only live 200 days. A lot happens during those 200 days, but that's the heart of the story.

It's a bit hard to assign a simple genre to the story, but I'm inclined to call it Magical Realism: extraordinary things happen, but this is fundamentally a story about very real people and their very real problems. David falls in love, and finds all of his assumptions about everything from Art to Love to Time to Mortality (most especially) Purpose challenged. He grows up, all too slowly, gradually setting aside his simple inward focus.

This is a *big* book -- at 500 pages, one of the few "graphic novels" worthy of the name -- but it's a pretty fast read. McCloud shows all of his technique and understanding of the medium, both to tell story and set mood -- he is one of the few people who can make a blank white page starkly frightening -- and the student of the form will find a lot of lessons in here. But you don't need to worry about that: the story will carry you along.

Mind, this isn't a happy or simple story, and it doesn't have any easy uplifting moral. It is beautiful, engaging and often fun, but rather melancholy at its core, and a day after finishing it I'm still getting a catch in my throat from it. It is fundamentally about Mortality and Time, so apply your own trigger warnings as necessary.

Anyway: highest recommendation. Certainly the best comic of the year so far, and I'll be pleasantly surprised if anything surpasses it...